The devastation left by the Trump administration makes it nearly impossible for the Biden State Department to achieve a pre-Trump status quo ante.
It might have come as a shock to the old Obama administration global interventionists who have landed top foreign policy positions in the Biden administration that the world has moved on from 2016. Whether it likes it or not, the Biden foreign policy team is dealing with a world that no longer reacts to every move made in Washington, DC. In fact, the U.S. capital city is now viewed as a place where a far-right insurrection nearly toppled constitutional rule and imposed a dictatorial regime rife with neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, private militias, and other societal nasties. So much for lectures from U.S. ambassadors about the need to maintain a civil society.
The devastation left by the Trump administration across the landscape of global geo-politics also makes it nearly impossible for the Biden State Department, led by three interventionists from the Obama era – Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and Undersecretary of State for Policy Victoria Nuland – to achieve a pre-Trump status quo ante. There are now de facto guardrails in place that will restrict Biden’s foreign policy team from opportunistic adventurism.
In the future, when those like Nuland and Power start lecturing other governments on their commitment to democracy, they can answer with, “What are you doing to shore up your own rather fragile democracy from another right-wing coup attempt?” It would be a very fair question considering the fact that the events of January 6, 2021 represented the most perilous internal threat to the U.S. government since the Civil War.
Trump and his main foreign policy henchmen – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, and son-in-law Jared Kushner – left in their wake of diplomatic vandalism a battered system of international standards that go back to the days of the League of Nations. Trump went to war against a number of United Nations specialized agencies and other institutions, including the World Health Organization (WHO); United Nations Economic, Social, and Educational Organization (UNESCO); the Universal Postal Union; the International Telecommunications Union; the World Trade Organization (WTO); the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) or “Paris Agreement;” the International Criminal Court (ICC); and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Trump departed UNESCO with $542 million in dues arrears and slashed $360 million in U.S. assistance to UNRWA.
Biden seems more interested in appeasing the Israeli Lobby in Washington than in restoring unconditional U.S. involvement with either UNESCO or UNRWA. Israel had unprecedented success in forcing the U.S., under Trump, to advance a totally pro-Israel foreign policy. Trump’s withdrawal from UNESCO was due to the organization’s insistence that Israel protect religious sites under is control that are holy to Muslims and Christians.
The parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for Iran’s nuclear program, including Iran, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, France, Germany, and the European Union will not soon forget the unreliability of the United States as a diplomatic partner after the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the pact and its overall denunciation of the entire agreement. The Biden administration set out to renege on earlier promises the Biden presidential campaign made to restore America’s participation in the JCPOA. During his Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of State, Blinken declared that the new administration was a “long way” off from rejoining the JCPOA, as if the U.S. withdrawal from the pact was somehow the fault of Iran. That sort of perfidious diplomatic stance will caution other countries that the United States is no longer a trustworthy ally or otherwise, regardless of what administration is in power.
Blinken’s diplomatic denunciation of past UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, including Security Council Resolutions 242 and 497, on the status of Middle East borders also places the United States in the position of an untrustworthy diplomatic partner. For example, Blinken declared that the Biden administration is leaving in place the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, which, by default, recognizes the city as Israel’s capital, something that most of the nations of the world and the United Nations do not. Blinken said the United States will continue to recognize Trump’s declaration that the Golan Heights of Syria is Israeli sovereign territory.
Biden is also accepting in full Kushner’s “Abraham Accords,” which saw the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco establish full diplomatic relations with Israel in return for no concessions from Israel on its smothering of Gaza and brutal military occupation of the West Bank. Another casualty of the Abraham Accords was Trump’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. The UN continues to recognize the former colony of Spanish Sahara, which Morocco invaded and occupied in 1975, as unsettled disputed territory between Morocco and the POLISARIO Front, which has been fighting Morocco for independence for the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a full member of the African Union and Non-Aligned Movement. Since 1979, the UN has recognized the right of the people of Western Sahara to “self-determination and independence, recognizing also the POLISARIO Front as the representative of the Western Sahara people.”
After having signaled to Israel and Morocco that illegal land grabs are perfectly legitimate in the eyes of Washington and that there is no sunlight between the Trump and Biden administrations when it comes to rewarding military aggression, no country will trust the signature of the United States on any international pact, accord, or treaty.
The WHO, the WTO, and the ICC will not soon forget how the Trump administration engaged in racist polemics against WHO Secretary General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia and both racist and misogynistic undermining of two female international civil servants, WTO Director General-designate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of Gambia. Biden and Blinken have shown every indication that they will continue U.S. hostility toward the ICC and Washington has made no effort to rescind U.S. sanctions, including visa bans, imposed on Bensouda or ICC director of jurisdiction Phakiso Mochochoko of Lesotho. Trump’s reference to African, Caribbean, and Central American nations as “shithole” countries has left an everlasting bad taste of American racism for people of color around the world. Regardless of Biden’s support for Okonjo-Iweala for WTO chief and his rejoining the WTO, his and Blinken’s continued hostility toward the ICC has done little to alleviate America’s ingrained racist and misogynistic image. Few will forget that 71 million Americans voted to re-elect Trump in support of his racist policies at home and abroad. That stench will follow the United States to the ends of the Earth.
Little but cheap talk has emerged from the Biden State Department about restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba, frozen by Trump. As part of his committing diplomatic arson prior to Biden’s inauguration, one of Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last acts was to restore Cuba to the State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) list. That move came after the Trump administration’s shameless backing for a right-wing military coup against Bolivia’s socialist President, Evo Morales, and an abortive coup against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro. The latter was in support of Venezuela’s puppet opposition “president” Juan Guaido, a tool of wealthy Venezuelan expatriates and political exiles living in south Florida. Initially, it appears that Biden and Blinken are more interested in placating south Florida-based right-wing Cuban and Venezuelan brigands, mercenaries, and narco-banker billionaires than in steering U.S. Latin American policy far from Trump’s, “El Jefe de Mar-a-Lago.”
The United States under Biden and future American presidents will continue to call the United States the “leader of the free world” and the world’s “only remaining superpower,” but as China’s Chairman Mao said long ago, the United States “in appearance… is very powerful, but in reality, it is nothing to be afraid of – it is a paper tiger.”